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Natural environment and biodiversity

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Get involved in The Big Tree Plant

The Big Tree Plant LogoThe Big Tree Plant aims to encourage people and communities to plant more trees in urban and residential areas. The five year campaign will encourage local community groups to plant and care for trees in their neighbourhood, particularly in areas that don’t have many. The Big Tree Plant partnership brings together civil society partners and conservation organisations, working with Defra and the Forestry Commission. For more information on how to get involved visit The Big Tree Plant website

The natural environment is the whole of the living world.

Our natural environment underpins our economic prosperity, our health and our wellbeing. Protecting the environment and enhancing biodiversity is therefore one of Defra’s top three priorities, as outlined in the Department’s Business Plan. A key commitment under this priority is the publication of a White Paper on the natural environment by spring 2011.

Defra works to protect all aspects of the natural environment:

We are also helping people to understand, value and protect how the natural environment works as an system to provide ‘ecosystem services’ to society.

The everyday decisions we all take can have a major impact on the natural environment. Defra is working to help businesses make best use of natural resources and consumers to make sustainable choices.

Why do we need to protect the natural environment as a whole system?

We already have ways to make sure individual aspects of our natural environment are protected from direct harm. However, as a society we are putting more and more pressure on our environment, which is damaging the way all the individual bits of it work together in systems.

This is a problem because by damaging these ‘ecosystems’ we are reducing the natural environment’s ability to give us valuable services that underpin our economic, social and personal well-being. These include filtering pollution, providing food, timber and other resources, giving us health and recreational benefits and regulating the flow of water.

Why are natural systems being damaged?

Apart from the things we can sell (e.g. food and timber), the value of our natural systems to society is largely hidden, which means they are often not valued in decision making and are therefore vulnerable to loss and degradation.

What can be done about it?

As a society we will get more from our natural environment if we can see it as a system and value the things it does for us in decisions we make.

Government is researching and promoting ways to help people to do this through an ‘ecosystems approach’. This approach will help us to protect the natural systems that maintain our landscapes and wildlife and support our economic, social and personal well-being.

Latest news

Key facts and figures

There are three major studies producing data on ecosystem services and their value to society. For information on these, and recent estimates of the value of the natural environment to society, see the Ecosystems services page under ‘Key facts and figures’.

The current situation and background

Over the last 30 years there have been significant reductions in the levels of environmental pollution and degradation in areas such as air and water quality, with protection for our most precious wildlife sites.

However, there are still many changing pressures on our environment, and the challenges we face are becoming more complex.

A more systematic, strategic approach, that brings together a wider range of players, provides new options to tackle these challenges efficiently and effectively. Defra is therefore promoting an ecosystems approach to policy and decision making. To find out more about this, see the Ecosystems services page under ‘Key facts and figures’.

Key publications and documents

Page last modified: 31 January 2011